[Matthew 25:46] : Punishment of men (aionion kolasin)
This phrase is very important to mankind because it is what describes the punishment of the wicked (non – believer) when the sentence is read out on judgment day. It is found in Matthew 25:46 and is uttered by Lord Jesus Himself:
“And these (wicked) will go away into age-during punishment while the righteous into age-during life.” ( Matthew 25:46)
Age-during punishment above in Greek, transliterated, is the phrase ‘aionion kolasin’.
Note that in Greek, for the aionion that occurs in Matthew 25:46,
‘aionion’ : (Adjective – Singular – Accusative – Feminine) –
And thus it means ‘age – during’ or ‘age – abiding’ literally.
I would quote below the excellent write-up on ‘aionion kolasin’ by Rev. Dr John Wesley Hanson (from his book Aion-Aionous) :
JEWISH GREEK USAGE.
Those Jews who were contemporary with Christ, but who wrote in Greek, will teach us how they understood the word. Of course when Jesus used it, he employed it as they understood it.
Josephus applies the word to the imprisonment to which John the tyrant was condemned by the Romans; to the reputation of Herod; to the everlasting memorial erected in re-building the temple, already destroyed, when he wrote; to the everlasting worship in the temple which, in the same sentence he says was destroyed; and he styles the time between the promulgation of the law and his writing a long aión.
To accuse him of attaching any other meaning than that of indefinite duration to the word, is to accuse him of stultifying himself. But when he writes to describe endless duration he employs other, and less equivocal terms.
Alluding to the Pharisees, he says:
“They believe that the wicked are detained in an everlasting prison [eirgmon aidion] subject to eternal punishment” [aidios timoria]; and the Essenes [another Jewish sect] “allotted to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing punishment [timoria adialeipton], where they suffer a deathless punishment, [athanaton timorian].”
It is true he sometimes applies aiónion to punishment, but this is not his usual custom, and he seems to have done this as one might use the word great to denote eternal duration, that is an indefinite term to describe infinity. But aidion and athanaton are his favorite terms. These are unequivocal. Were only aiónion used to define the Jewish idea of the duration of future punishment, we should have no proof that it was supposed to be endless.
Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally usedaidion to denote endless, and always used aiónion to describe temporary duration. Dr. Mangey, in his edition of Philo, says he never used aiónion to interminable duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matthew, xxv:46, precisely as Christ used it. “It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and everlasting punishment [kolasis aiónios] from such as are more powerful.” Here we have the exact terms employed by out Lord, to show that aiónion did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ.
Philo always uses athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aiónion for temporary duration.
Stephens, in his Thesaurus, quotes from a Jewish work, [Solom. Parab.] “These they called aiónios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations.”
This shows conclusively that the expression “three generations” was then one full equivalent ofaiónion. Now these eminent scholars were Jews who wrote in Greek, and who certainly knew the meaning of the words they employed, and they give to the aionian words the meaning that we are contending for, indefinite duration, to be determined by the subject.
Thus the Jews of our Savior’s time avoided using the word aiónion to denote endless duration, for applied all through the Bible to temporary affairs, it would not teach it. If Jesus intended to teach the doctrine held by the jews, would he not have used the terms they used? Assuredly; but he did not. He threatened age-lasting, or long-enduring discipline to the believers in endless punishment.
Aiónion was his word while theirs was aidion, adialeipton, orathanaton, — thus rejecting their doctrines by not only not employing their phraseology, but by using always and only those words connected with punishment, that denote limited suffering.
And, still further to show that he had no sympathy with those cruel men who procured his death,
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take heed and beware of the leaven [doctrine] of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” [believers in endless misery and believers in destruction].
Had aiónion been the strongest word, especially had it denoted endless duration, who does not see that it would have been in general use as applied to punishment, by the Jewish Greeks of nineteen centuries ago?
THE WORD TRANSLATED PUNISHMENT MEANS IMPROVEMENT.
The word is Kolasin. It is thus authoritavely defined: Greenfield, “Chastisement, punishment.” Hedericus, “The trimming of the luzuriant branches of a tree or vine to improve it and make it fruitful.”Donnegan, “The act of clipping or pruning –restriction, restraint, reproof, check, chastisement.” Grotius, “The kind of punishment which tends to the improvement of the criminal, is what the Greek philosophers called kolasis or chastisement.” Liddell, “Pruning, checking, punishment, chastisement, correction.” Max Muller, “Do we want to know what was uppermost in the minds of those who formed the word for punishment, the Latin pæna orpunio, to punish, the root pu in Sanscrit, which means to cleanse, to purify, tells us that the Latin derivation was originally formed, not to express mere striking or torture, but cleansing, correcting, delivering from the stain of sin.”
That it had this meaning in Greek usage we cite Plato: “For the natural or accidental evils of others, no one gets angry, or admonishes, or teaches or punishes (kolazei) them, but we pity those afflicted with such misfortunes. ** For if, O Socrates, you will consider what is the design of punishing (kolazein) the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes (kolazei) the wicked, looking to the past only, simply for the wrong he has done,–that is, no one does this thing who does not actLIKE A WILD BEAST, desiring only revenge, without thought –hence he who seeks to punish (kolazein) with reason, does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, ** but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished, may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought, must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) for the purpose of deterring from wickedness.”
Like many other words this is not always used in its exact and full sense. The apocrypha employs it as the synonym of suffering, regardless of reformation. See Wis. iii:11, xvi:1; I Mac. vii:7. See also Josephus.
It is found but four times in the New Testament. Acts iv:21, the Jews let John and Peter go, “finding nothing further how they might punish them” (kolazo). Did they not aim to reform them? Was not their punishment to cause them to return to the Jewish fold? From their standpoint the word was certainly used to convey the idea of reformation. 1 John iv:18. “Fear hath torment.” Here the word “torment” should be restraint. It is thus translated in the Emphatic Diaglot. The idea is, if we have perfect love we do not fear God, but if we fear we are restrained from loving him. “Fear hath restraint.” The word is used here with but one of its meanings. In 2 Peter ii:9, the apostle uses the word as our Lord did: the unjust are reserved unto the day of judgment to be punished (kolazomenous).
This accords exactly with the lexicography of the word, and the general usage in the Bible and in Greek literature agrees with the meaning given by the lexicographers. Now, though the word rendered punishment is sometimes used to signify suffering alone, by Josephus and others, surely Divine inspiration will use it in its exact sense. We must therefore be certain that in the New Testament, when used by Jesus to designate divine punishment, it is generally used with its full meaning. The lexicographers and Plato, above, show us what that is, suffering, restraint, followed by correction, improvement.
From this meaning of the word, torment is by no means excluded. God does indeed torment his children when they go astray. He is a “consuming fire,” and burns with terrible severity towards us when we sin, but it is not because he hates but because he loves us. He is a refiner’s fire tormenting the immortal gold of humanity in the crucible of punishment, until the dross of sin is purged away.
Mal. ii:2,3, “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold or silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Therefore kolasis is just the word to describe his punishments. They do for the soul what pruning does for the tree, what the crucible of the refiner does for the silver ore.